Monday, April 18, 2016

On the Inherent Toxicity of Fandom

So I just read the stupidest fucking thing this year. America's bourgeois geeks and dweebs have found a progressive hero in the comic book and film hero who punches people while wearing the Stars and Stripes. He's a totally non-toxic manly-man, except for that whole killing foreigners thing.

That last point never appears in the article of course. Talking about the super leftists creds of a super-soldier only works if you forget the soldier half of the eqaution. You could maybe excuse the World War II escapades of the character, as long as you never look up the opinions of actual GIs, but you've got decades of imperialistic misadventures afterwards. That Chris Evans as Steve Rogers is filmed looking thoughtful and concerned about America building more and more superweapons doesn't change the fact said supwerweapons continue getting built - which only doesn't look supervillian-evil because there are nice two-dimensional alien invaders to worry about.

But that's getting off our main topic and dicking around in the muddy logic of the MCU, which only follows marketing logic anyway. Rather, the article's refusal to engage with the blood-soaked history of American foreign policy is what really makes it objectionable. The closest it ever comes is this swooning over an entirely fictional person:

Steve Rogers isn’t a warrior so much as he is a guardian. His first instinct is to throw himself into harm’s way in order to save others, regardless of whether he’ll survive or not. He quite literally threw himself on a grenade in order to save his unit during basic training. When it became clear that the only way to save the US from the Red Skull’s super-weapon, he rode that sucker into the ground in order to make sure that nobody else would get hurt. In fact, it’s pretty significant that Cap’s’ signature weapon is a shield, an inherently defensive tool... It doesn’t cut, it doesn’t thrust, it doesn’t penetrate, it blocks. It’s there to protect, not to destroy. And that shield is the symbol of Steve’s rejection of violence qua violence.

That all sounds nice and fluffy if you forget it was the exact character interpretation of decorated sociopath and racist Chris Kyle in the utterly forgettable American Sniper. Film-Kyle lacks the crude cruelty of the Kyle in his own autobiography, instead presented as just so concerned with protecting his fellow Americans... from the people whose country they invaded.

The various geek fandoms, whether superhero films or video games or whatever, never engage with these ugly realities. They can't as anything that breaks from the escapist value of the product will alienate potential customers. Not may, but absolutely will. You can't present an honest look at the world without upsetting someone, and that means one less source of revenue.

Geek cultural products may be creative, even inspired in rare cases, but they exist to serve a corporate bottom line. That market logic shapes them root and branch, and further shapes the fandoms surrounding them. An example: The Force Awakens is at best an adequate action movie, trading on nostalgia and the lack of Jar-Jar Binks to appear as something more grand. And also because something grand is what the fandom desperately craved, so anything not objectionably terrible was bound to be celebrated as "recapturing the magic."

That very magic was a fluke born of circumstances but it was a very profitable fluke, meaning many many attempts to do it again but built from a sterile marketing perspective rather than any imagination and soul. The MCU embodies this philosophy, constituted of two or three fun popcorn flicks and half a dozen snoozers - with more and more to come!

This is exactly what the fandom wants. Not just in films but in video games and comic books and the turgidly long fantasy genre that pretends to be real literature. Fandom is nothing more than consumption and brand loyalty, to which all artistic efforts are secondary concerns. Just because Superman isn't still telling you to "Slap a Jap" doesn't make him any less of a corporate pitchman. And just because the current movie incarnation of Captain America isn't bitching and moaning about liberated women doesn't change the fact he stands for the nation of pre-emtpive war and drone assassinations.

The fandom will not engage with this aspect of the character because it would go against the very nature of fandom: finding a safe place to hide from the scary world. That's the really toxic aspect of all these superheroes, the all-encompassing fantasy they promote. It's a reactionary brainwave that the fans crave, no matter how progressive they claim to be.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Philosophy in the Bathroom

Sometimes it helps to take a step back and consider the premises driving public life. Especially in America, where no one can ever speak the truth without endangering their ever diminishing career prospects. As I don't have a career to speak of, I can speak any truth that happens across my radar - namely that the current trans-panic over restrooms and other facilities is driven by delusion.

Hands up, all of you who have used a public toilet designated for the opposite sex. And that should be everyone reading this who isn't a Mormon as there is a time honored tradition of practicality trumping propriety in the dive bars of this Great Nation. I know I'm not the only one to skip the line for the Men's room and go into the unoccupied Lady's when I've had a couple beers and you're lying right now if you say you haven't. Or you're really boring.

But that's admittedly a low bar as so many bars don't differentiate their two restrooms that much. Some places just have two identical closets with a single toilet, a sink, and usually a lock on the door. The more economical establishments will have a single head, with men and women using it without any anxiety.

A large public restroom is another issue entirely - or it is if you never ask why that's so. Gentlemen, do you worry a trasman might check out your junk at the urinal? How is that any different from every other time you've taken a piss in public? Maybe I haven't seen every possible layout but in my experience there ain't a whole lot of space between those things.

The same question holds for the women who worry about a transwoman primping in front of the mirror with the rest of them. How is it different from the norm? And how could you tell anyway, check to see who pees standing up? That might say more about you than you're ready to admit...

This fear of boy's in the girl's room and girl's in the men's room loses whatever flimsy rationalization it had once you account for homosexual desire. Getting back to urinals, a dude can easily check out another dude - if he's a creeper - and no state legislatures are fretting over that scenario. If the legislators themselves are any indication, it's already a common occurrence.

Which brings us to the subject of high school locker rooms, and all the Victorian malakas begging us to think of the children. Does a transgirl's right to use her preferred room trump a cis-girl's right to not potentially see a penis? I didn't know teenage girls were in the habit of going commando in front of each other enough for this to be an issue, which is probably why it's phrased much more vaguely. "What if it makes the other kids uncomfortable?" ask people who have clearly forgotten what it's like to be a teenager.

You know what else can make kids uncomfortable in a locker room? Everything! From body image problems to the still socially normative homophobia to just wearing the wrong brand of sneakers, kids will never feel safe around each other. That's a reality every American over the age of fourteen has experienced first-hand, and yet it never enters this conversation.

So what's the solution? You could just not give a flaming toss - that's my view and the view of everyone else with more important things to worry about, like a paycheck or utility bills. A law restricting your access to a toilet by what it says on your birth certificate is less enforceable than SOPA, so go forth and crap freely. And if you're really that invested in the anatomy of the person in the stall next to you, you have problems no state laws could ever fix.

UPDATE (04-16-16)

 Predictably, one of the men responsible for the bathroom bill has been creeping on thirty-four women. Jeremy Durham joins Larry Craig and Mark Foley in the august collection of Republicans who personally need legislation to keep it in their pants.